27 January, 2007

My fair lady

I had made up my mind not to be astonished at that immensity of London of which I had heard so much. But it happened to me as to the poor school-boy, who had made up his mind not to feel the whipping he was to receive.

— Heinrich Heine, 'London' (1828).
In my exile, the city has acquired an almost mythical, Ulyssean resonance. In occasional moments, plucked as sweet drupes in the forest of labours, I dream of its grey stones, of its graves, of its fountains—of the Heath, and of the river. The waters of the Thames are greater than the waters of the Liffey—too sluggish—of the Seine—too narrow—of the Hudson—too. . . American. How many empty bottles it bears! How many sandwich papers, silk handkerchiefs, cardboard boxes, cigarette ends, and other summernight testimonies are concealed in its depths! (No more red sails, sad to say, no more drifting logs, and few beating oars upon its surface, so green with the endless stirring up of silt from its bed.) And all the bridges! My favourite is Albert Bridge, which opened in 1872. It resembles a pontiform wedding-cake. In fact, I asked a friend of mine to make an Albert Bridge-shaped cake for my own wedding; despite his best efforts, he couldn't make it work. Now, allegedly, its timber is being rotted by the urine of dogs marched across in their droves to Battersea Park.

Most well-known and well-seen is Tower Bridge. But the bridge that defines London is, of course, London Bridge herself—my fair lady, though not quite so fair these days—whose dissimilar self sits ominously a few miles from here. She was the only bridge in London until 1750, when a second one was built just upstream at Westminster. As noted by Peter Jackson—no, not that one—'In a very real sense London exists because of London Bridge. . . Where the Bridge was built a settlement developed which was to become London.' Despite this, it isn't until the 16th century that we have any substantive mention of the bridge. At this time it was 905 feet long, and covered in houses—like the Ponte Vecchio today—thus the longest inhabited bridge ever built in Europe. In 1562, a visiting Italian merchant by the name of Alessandro Magno called the bridge 'a remarkable sight even among the beauties of London'. It looked like this:

This is a 1616 engraving by Claes Jansz Visscher. There are many pictures from the period, by John Norden, Van den Wyngaerde, Ralph Agas, Joris Hoefnagel and Claude de Jongh. Note the long boat-like objects at the base of each pier; these are called starlings. Patricia Pierce explains: 'Each pier was built on a platform which consisted of loose stone rubble enclosed in a ring of elm piles, across which were laid three oak beams. The whole was encircled by more piles for protection forming the 'starlings'.' Pierce also notes the presence of corn-grinding mills and waterwheels set up in 1581, and all the traitors' heads on poles (one traveller counted 34; Scaliger apparently noted whole corpses too). She tells us of a game:
'Shooting the bridge' was an irresistible challenge to the often fatally reckless, when at ebb tide the drop of the rapids could be as much as six feet. Occasionally, even the ceremonial water procession of an ambassador 'shott the bridge', presumably at 'still water'—even then a feat considered worth recording.
With the flowering of English letters, Londoners began to take some real pride and interest in their city, and in their river. Ben Jonson wrote urban comedies, and Thames boatmen became poets. In 1598 John Stow provided the founding document of the capital's historiography with his Suruay of London, Contayning the originall, antiquity, increase, moderne estate, and description of that citie. It is a remarkable work, full of odd anecdotes and superstitions ground up with precise details of the city's history and topography. Here's what he says about the bridge:
The originall foundation of London bridge, by report of Bartholomew Linsled, alias Fowle, last Prior of S. Marie Oueries, Church in Southwarke was this: a Ferrie being kept in place where now the Bridge is builded, at length the Ferriman and his wife deceasing, left the same Ferrie to their onely daughter, a maiden named Marie, which with the goods left by her Parents, as also with the profites rising of the said Ferrie, builded a house of Sisters in place where now standeth the east part of S. Marie Oueries church aboue the Quier, where she was buried, vnto the which house she gaue the ouersight and profites of the Ferrie, but afterwardes the saide house of Sisters being conuerted into a colledge of Priestes, the Priestes builded the Bridge (of Tymber) as all other the greate bridges of this Land were, and from time to time kept the same in good reparation, till at length considering the greate charges of repayring the same there was by aide of the Citizens of London and others a bridge builded of stone as shal be shewed.
Listen to the flow of that sentence—an Elizabethan sentence, casually long and riverine. Within 100 years this language would become obsolete; the torrent of words would dry up, like the Thames had done in 1114, and give way to the curt conversational style of the Royal Society. Browne and Urquhart would write the last monuments of the English baroque. Stow's sentence would be quoted (without citation) in 1657, just before the last embers of the style had died out, in James Howell's Londinopolis: an historicall discourse or perlustration of the city of London, the imperial chamber, and chief emporium of Great Britain:
At first there was but a Ferry kept in the place where now the Bridge is built, at length the Ferriman and his Wife deceasing, left the said Ferry to their only Daughter a Mayden, who with other goods, left her by her Parents, together with the profits arising from the said Ferry, did build a holy House for Nuns; in place whereof, the East part of St. Mary Overies stands now above the Quire, where she was buried: and unto that House of Nuns, she bequeathed the over-sight and benefit of the Ferry; But afterwards, that House of Nuns being converted into a House of Priests, the Priests did build a Bridge of Timber, and from time to time, kept the same in good reparation, till at length, considering the great charges which were bestowed in the frequent repair of the woodden Bridge, there was at last, by the Contributions of the Citizens, and others, a Bridge built of Stone.
The changes are small but significant. The language has taken a step towards what we know now—Howell uses built instead of builded, stands instead of standeth, who instead of which, and specifies Nuns as opposed to the more poetic Sisters—his spelling, meanwhile, is moving swiftly towards a standard. But more important is Howell's repunctuation: he introduces a semicolon pause after 'Nuns', expanding 'where' to 'whereof', so as to accommodate the new period. Similarly, he gives 'buried: and unto that House of Nuns' instead of 'buried, vnto the which house'. What Howell does throughout the passage is break up the syntax, giving the reader space to breathe by making very small adjustments. Within another twenty years, even Howell's style would be considered cluttered.


Howell was an ardent Londoner, and his Londinopolis is full of praise for the bridge. He calls it 'the Bridge of the world', and the Thames' 'greatest Bridge, which, if the stupendious Site, and structure thereof be well considered, may be said to be one of the Wonders of the World: though, as some think, it hath too many Arches; so that it may be said, If London Bridge had fewer eyes, it would see far better.' Howell provides this poem as a preface for his book:
When Neptune from his billows London spyde,
Brought proudly thither by a high Spring-Tyde;
As through a floating Wood He steer'd along,
And dancing Castles cluster'd in a throng;
When he beheld a mighty Bridg give law
Unto his Surges, and their fury awe;
When such a shelf of Cataracts did roar,
As if the Thames with Nile had changed her shoar
When he such massy Walls, such Towrs did eye,
Such Posts, such Irons upon his back to lye,
When such vast Arches he observ'd, that might
Nineteen Rialtos make for depth and height,
When the Cerulean God these things survayd,
He shook his Trident, and astonish'd said,
Let the whol Earth now all Her wonders count
This Bridg of Wonders is the Paramount.
Just to show off, he gives the same poem in Latin as well. The classical allusions and iambic pentameter in heroic couplets are standard for a dedicatory poem. To this we contrast something much more odd, and more interesting, with its own mythology:
Then Westminster the next great Tames doth entertaine;
That vaunts her Palace large, and her most sumptuous Fane:
The Lands tribunall seate that challengeth for hers,
The crowning of our Kings, their famous sepulchers.
Then goes he on along by that more beautious Strand,
Expressing both the wealth and bravery of the Land.
(So many sumptuous Bowres, within so little space,
The All-beholding Sun scarse sees in all his race.)
And on by London leads, which like a Crescent lies,
Whose windowes seem to mock the Star-befreckled skies;
Besides her rising Spyres, so thick themselves that show,
As doe the bristling reeds, within his Banks that growe.
There sees his crouded Wharfes, and people-pestred shores,
His Bosome over-spread, with shoales of labouring ores:
With that most costly Bridge, that doth him most renowne,
By which he cleerely puts all other Rivers downe.
This passage appears towards the end of Michael Drayton's epic Poly-Olbion, eighteen books of rhymed couplets on the landscape of England and Wales, composed between 1598 and 1622. The poem was not a great success; the poet lamented that his Elizabethan epic was unsuited to the conservative Jacobean tastes that it met on publication. But it is a magnificent stretch of verse, available now as part of an Elibron facsimile reprint of Drayton's collected works. Each book covers a different county, describing its topography and folklore, with particular attention to rivers.

In Book 15 we hear of the royal wedding of the Tame and his bride the Isis, and of their child the Tamesis (Thames), the 'King of all our Rivers'. Drayton's elaborate presentation can be contrasted, again, with Howell's prosaic account: 'From hence she goeth to Dorchester and so into Tame, where contracting friendship with a River of the like name, she loseth the name of Isis or Ouse. . . and from thence she assumes the name of Thamesis all along as she glides'. Drayton's verses, like the river itself, are heavy and slow, in watery melisma, onrushing relentlessly, its only breaks the books themselves, making time of space, making song of land and water, ancient as days. The Thames flows east, accepting the pleasures of the Colne (16.1-4):
The Brydall of our Tame and Princely Isis past:
And Tamesis their sonne, begot, and wexing fast,
Inviteth Crystall Colne his wealth on him to lay,
Whose beauties had intic't his Soveraine Tames to stay.
Finally it flows through Surrey, Hampton, Westminster and London in Book 17, quoted above (89-104), where the King of Rivers 'summarily sings the Kings of England, from Norman William to yesterdaies age'. London is painted briefly, as space allows, sketched with its crowds and wharfs—warehouses at the river-front, according to the folk derivation—with its spires and its ores/oars, and most of all with that most costly Bridge, that doth the river most renowne, / By which he cleerely puts all other Rivers downe.


The history of a bridge could be a history of disaster and renewal—of cadences, falling and rising, the edifice of a line as transport from bank to bank, from period to period. Stow tells us that the timber burnt down in 1136, was rebuilt, still timber, in 1163, and rebuilt again, now in stone, 1176-1209. But the tribulations of the bridge were far from over—'Aboute the yeare 1282. through a greate frost and deepe snow, 5. Arches of London bridge, were borne downe and carried away. In the yeare 1289. the bridge was so sore decayed, for want of reparations, that men were afraid to passe thereon'. No wonder the popular rhyme we know so well,
London Bridge is falling down,
Falling down, falling down,
London Bridge is falling down,
My fair Lady.
But London Bridge—wood and clay, silver and gold, needles and pins, stone so strong—would prevail against all the elements and the vicissitudes of man. Drayton was not so lucky; nor was that Elizabethan river of language, green with the stirring of Saxon soil, for which he stood. In this light the writings of Richard F. Jones and Morris Croll, charting the purge of English prose during the Reformation, sound like laments, little unheard tragedies of the history of our language, a long undone bridge.


williamw said...

is't the old London Bridge now in Texas and the bridge that everyone 'thinks' is London Bridge really is Tower Bridge? Crossing bridges is however a religious experience, or at least should be, unlike the bridge in Amsterdam known as Muntplein, which is a bridge and a square in one, making for a very unreligious bridge experience...

Janet said...

never before our worlds have met. i collided unto yours...by chance. but i wonder about the man behind the words. if wonder is worth anything these days...perhaps i'll read more.
if all can meet one...there's hope.

WindWhisperer said...

That was a beautiful article about London's "Bridge of Sighs"...

John Cowan said...

The Hudson may be too American, but like the Thames it flows both ways (unchecked by lock, gate, or weir).

John B. said...

"people-pestred"--meanings have shifted, I know, but what a fine way to describe a place where one would rather be alone but cannot be.

Along the line of Williamw's declaration that crossing bridges should be a religious experience: That's a pretty good way to describe what I feel when crossing the Mississippi at the I-10 bridge in Baton Rouge.

It's posts like this--their combination of learnedness and elegance--that keep me coming back here.

darkman said...

Interesting blog,keep it up.

Language said...

"Star-befreckled skies" -- wonderful! Thanks for this mossy, meandering post.

Conrad H. Roth said...

Thank you, gentlemen.

William, the old London Bridge was reconstructed piece-by-piece at Lake Havasu, Arizona, not far from where I live. It is popularly believed that the buyer thought he was getting Tower Bridge, but this is not true (and if you think about it, not terribly plausible, given the money involved.)

As to whether crossing bridges is a religious experience--perhaps part of my goal with this site is to reclaim religious experience for the unreligious--a secular religion, if you will.

Language said...

So I went off to Pepys Diary and found, in the latest entry (Wednesday 27 January 1663/64):

Up and to the office, and at noon to the Coffeehouse, where I sat with Sir G. Ascue1 and Sir William Petty, who in discourse is, methinks, one of the most rational men that ever I heard speak with a tongue, having all his notions the most distinct and clear... He shewed finely whence it happens that good writers are not admired by the present age; because there are but few in any age that do mind anything that is abstruse and curious; and so longer before any body do put the true praise, and set it on foot in the world, the generality of mankind pleasing themselves in the easy delights of the world, as eating, drinking, dancing, hunting, fencing, which we see the meanest men do the best, those that profess it. A gentleman never dances so well as the dancing master, and an ordinary fiddler makes better musique for a shilling than a gentleman will do after spending forty, and so in all the delights of the world almost.

Your post could be a gloss on "good writers are not admired by the present age" (that age, of course, being exactly the changeover between the riverine and modern styles).

Conrad H. Roth said...

Yes, a fortuitous discovery. Thanks! Not having the bottle to wade through 10 volumes of personal ephemera, I don't know Pepys' diary at all; I wonder if he has such telling observations on the language elsewhere.

Language said...

Not often, but you could search an online version of the complete diary for "style," "written," and the like. He frequently goes to plays and comments on them, and buys a fair number of books.

kate said...

according to wordnet.princeton.edu/perl/webwn a bridge is a structure that allows people or vehicles to cross an obstacle such as a river or canal or railway etc.

The London Bridge has been doing that for decades and giving us much to talk/write about at the same time. I have spent lots of time in London and the bridge is not even something I think of these days synomous with London... funny... the Eye either. Its more the districts... Hyde park or Covent Gardens...

same holds true for NYC... I think of Manhattan or the Meatpacking district not the statue of Liberty or Verranzo Bridge! Perhaps thats what happens when you are familiar with a spot and no longer a real tourist... idk

Interesting post. Thanks!

Erik said...

Thank you for this interesting piece of bridge literature, I really enjoyed it. In Amsterdam there are the canals. In Leeuwarden, near where I live, many canals have been filled up, so the subtle tension you feel and which is satisfied by seeing a bridge, offering the opportunity to cross to the other side with all its promises, no longer exists. A canal or river without a bridge gives you a feeling of deprivation, you cannot reach what is promised, even if you don't have to be at the other side, it's frustrating. It's almost erotic.

a co-author... said...

I loved your mentioning of bridges. I've always loved standing on bridges to watch the waves below... makes you think all poetic, doesn't it? And your point on Elizabethan sentences was a bit of new information to me. So that is what is called when you meander with words XD Something I'm quite familiar with and a habit I'm trying to reduce. It drives me crazy at times when I can't even understand what I write!

Siganus Sutor said...

London Bridge is falling down,
Falling down, falling down,
London Bridge is falling down,
My fair Lady.

How is it possible that in a rather French-speaking faraway country a rather French-speaking mother in a rather French-speaking family got to sing this song to her rather French-speaking son? Was this bridge that famous?

Incidentally, thanks for this post. It made me look on the internet for an image
of The Bridge on the Drina, the book I'm currently reading. Otherwise I would have probably never seen the kapia, the mid-span meeting place mentioned all along the story. But maybe I shouldn't have seen it with my eyes, though...
(Much more importantly, has Ismail Kadaré “copied” Ivo Andrić's book when he later wrote his own The Three-Arched Bridge? There are disturbing similarities between the two.)

language said...

The Bridge on the Drina is a wonderful book, but it has one of the most terrifying and repellent scenes I've ever read -- and once embedded in the memory, it is impossible to extricate therefrom. A hell of a writer, Andric.

Siganus Sutor said...

LH: The Bridge on the Drina is a wonderful book, but it has one of the most terrifying and repellent scenes I've ever read -- and once embedded in the memory, it is impossible to extricate therefrom.

I have about a hundred pages left and I suppose I haven't yet reached what you mention (unless I'm some kind of monster...).

But have you read Kadare? You really find the same stories in his book: the children that are supposedly embedded in the bridge, the people who sabotage the construction work at night, etc. One who has read both cannot but wonder if there hasn't been some plagiarism here.

Siganus Sutor said...

Ah, maybe you refer to the impalement of the Serb who is caught undermining the bridge. If it is what you mentioned, yes, it is quite gruesome.
"Those were the days my friend..."

Erik said...

Conrad, I read the contribution of your sister-in-law and commented to it. You people are a threat to bookshops and editors with those stories. You started with Heine, who was somebody I don't like because he hated Goethe for being a "friend of nobility" (I think he was just jealous) :-). I refer to my blog-comment answering your remarks about Goethe under "the meaning of meaning".

Conrad H. Roth said...

Siganus, I haven't heard of either of those books. People in bridges, eh? Very poetic.

Erik, the main road near me is being transformed into a light rail, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to cross it, as in fact I have to do every morning (and evening). One now has to clamber over rails and construction. Soon it will be impossible. A frustrating experience, sure, but not an erotic one! As for Heine, I'm not sure I like him either, though he does have his moments. He seems to have hated everyone. On the other hand, Heine in the 'Romantic School' compares Goethe to Louis XI, or a great oak which puts all other writers in the shade.

Proserpine said...

This is a superlative effort - the hiraeth and sense of melancholy add real poignancy to your usual erudite musings.

Conrad H. Roth said...

Hiraeth. I did not know that word. A sense of longing for home, yes. Terrific!

Ctelblog said...


I agree that Albert Bridge is a thing of beauty. And "pontiform wedding-cake" is the best description of it I have read. But your comment about dog urine is sadly fanciful. The truth is more prosaic. It's the dreaded 4x4 (see here: http://observer.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,1854333,00.html )

language said...

maybe you refer to the impalement of the Serb

Yes, that is precisely that to which I refer.

Siganus Sutor said...

> Language Hat

I reread the impalement passage last evening (Tuesday). You're right: it is particularly awful when you imagine the whole process. I have to confess nonetheless that this type of scene, however gruesome, does not usually haunt me after I have read it. I uneasily wriggle while going through the description, but it doesn't seem to have a perennial effect. (Is it bad you think?)
In that respect I'm fairly different from Mrs Sutor who will put a book down if she feels it contains “images” that are too violent. (For instance she never managed to finish Les Rois maudits (The Accursed Kings), which has a sequence of torture.) Maybe some people have a higher degree of empathy than others.

Siganus Sutor said...

which has a sequence of torture

‘Episode’ instead of ‘sequence’, maybe?

Robert said...

A very engaging blog; this post held me to the end. I come back again and again as time permits.

In West Dean, (Wiltshire/Hampshire boarder in England) there is a mighty memorial to Sir John Evelyn in the tiniest Chantry Chapel I know. My parents are buried in the nearby Church Yard as we lived in the village for many years. I remember my father saying that he, Sir John Evelyn wrote much in his diaries of London as Pepys did. My memory fails me now but I remember reading a story of London Bridge at this time. Were there races across it? Sadly I can give no other clue.

John Cowan said...

Siganus, the English and the French have been trading nursery rhymes for some centuries: I, in an anglophone country far away indeed, grew up on Sur le pont d'Avignon and Alouette, gentil alouette, though it was only some years later that I found out what the lyrics meant.

Siganus Sutor said...

John, what do you mean by “far away”? Far away from Avignon, from France, from Quebec? If Sur le pont d'Avignon can't be anything else than French, Gentille alouette is a Canadian song.

As for the trading of nursery rhymes, I didn't know that but after all it's not so strange: the omnipresent Joyeux anniversaire is just a French version of the American song, and I have seen some of Michael Jackson's songs sung in Hindi. (The lambada as well, by the way...)

(Er, Conrad, isn't it possible to have the date on which the comments are posted? I don't know for how many days John has been waiting for some reply. He might have been thinking that I was a rather rude barbarian...)

John Cowan said...

Siganus, I certainly don't think you a barbarian; as for delayed replies, they are part of the nature of the medium.

Secondly, thanks for correcting my confounded error in gender, though I suppose it is very much in the anglophone tradition (Le Mort Darthur and all that).

Thirdly, of course you are right, now that I look it up, about the quebecosity of the bird-plucking song; it's all too easy for us anglophones, bestriding the continent as we do, to forget about North American French.

I will add to the list, though, what I unaccountably forgot before, namely "Frere Jacques" and "Au clair de la lune", which four I think constitute the whole of my childhood knowledge of French. Here we are certainly dealing with hexagonal French.

"Frere Jacques" is straightforward semantically, despite the heavy weather that Wikipedia makes of its meaning; it's plainly about a monk who has slept through the matins bell. Still, the article is worth reading if only to show the international ramifications of the simple words and tune.

But "Au clair de la lune" is particularly interesting to me, because in its modern form it has turned inside-out.The second (or third) line was, it seems, originally pretez-moi ta lume, and addressed to the Moon itself. But the word lume 'light' having become archaic was replaced in the oral tradition with plume, and thus the poem is now spoken to a third party (the person with the pen) and has become a sort of parody of itself....

Siganus Sutor said...

John, what you mentioned about the lume turned into plume was totally unknown to me. Maybe it's true — it could make some sense —, maybe not. If there's no certainty about Jean-Baptiste Lully's authorship, something I personally took for granted, it looks even more unlikely that a definitive conclusion could be found regarding this lume. But, who knows, some light might be shed on the question one night or the other...
and thus the poem is now spoken to a third party (the person with the pen)”: You think something has changed with respect to these forgotten photons? But then, even with light being asked for instead of a pen, you already had Pierrot, didn't you?
When we were kids, we also had a naughty version of the song:
Au clair de la lune, j'ai pété dans l'eau,
Ça faisait des bulles, c'était rigolo.
Ma grand-mère arrive avec des ciseaux
Pour couper mes fesses en quatre mille morceaux.

"Frère Jacques" too seems to have its local particularities:
Sonnez les matines!
Sonnez les matines!
Ding, dong, bell.
Ding, dong, bell.

And this is quite strange when you think about it, since the song must have been known and sung in the French-ruled island before the 1810 British invasion. Has it been modified afterwards, to include some "Englishness" in the tune, even though English has never really been spoken by the population? And if so, was it done to mock or to please?
(On the 10th day of March 2007, A.D.)

John Cowan said...

And on the sixth of April following, I reply:

Surely it is incoherent to complain of darkness and ask for a pen in the same breath: what use would it be? Although the lume-theory cannot be proved, it seems extremely plausible from internal evidence.

Why can't "Pierrot" simply be a poetic name for the Moon? That makes complete sense of the whole poem: the speaker asks the Moon for light, explaining that his candle is out and his fire is dead. In the second verse the Moon replies grumpily that he has no light because he has gone to bed (i.e., is setting), but that the neighbor is striking a light in her kitchen, so he should try there.

By the way, I found two amusing English translations, though illumined by the lume-theory I would amend "my neighbor" to "your neighbor" in both. The second is in a modern style, for good and ill; it preserves the poetic devices of the original better, but has more instances of false declamation when sung to the original tune.

John Cowan said...

Hmm. Where did you get this Réunion "ding dong bell" version? In any case, "ding dong bell" is English in its entirety, being used in several English nursery rhymes as well as a rather nursery-rhyme lyric of Shakespeare's.

I learned "Frere Jacques" with the purely French refrain "Din dan don". When I sang it in English, though, the name was "John" not "James", and the fact that "Jack" has always been a nickname for "John" rather than "James" ("James" being the English representative of "Jacob" via Italian Giacomo) in English suggests that this translation is fairly old.

I will add, since Wikipedia doesn't, that the "Where is Thumbkin" version is transparently a mother-and-baby game involving hiding each finger in turn and then revealing it, the other fingers being known in successive verses as "Pointer", "Middle-man" (or "Long-man"), "Ring-man", and "Pinky".

Sceopellen said...

I remember reading a fascinating piece in 'Heavy Words Lightly Thrown' (Chris Roberts, I believe), where he suggested that 'London Bridge is Burning Down' was 'based on a Norwegian poem by Ottar Svarte, celebrating the victory of King Olav... [and] the English King Aethelred against the invading Danes.' I've posted something in my blog about it (http://sceopellen.wordpress.com).

Apparently, Tooley Street, near to London Bridge, should actually be Toolevs Street...

Conrad H. Roth said...

Yes, Wikipedia mentions the same hypothesis. Like most accounts of the origins of nursery rhymes, etc., it is only plausible speculation at best, but always welcome. I think "St. Olav's" as the origin of "Tooley" is more certain.

aa said...

belatedly ... It was "Au clair de la lume", (ref) with "lume" meaning approximately "lumignon":
"Ce qui reste d'un bout de bougie ou de chandelle qui achève de brûler."
but here a glowing light that one uses to go to bed after the candle has been extinguished. When I was told this by a French linguist some years ago, he described a lume as a glowing scrap of wood lit from the candle, just before the candle was extinguished.